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5 stages of rejection (and how to deal)

March 25, 2015, 1:30 PM UTC

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How should every successful woman deal with rejection? is written by Beth Fisher-Yoshida, director of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program at Columbia University.

Let’s face it – dealing with rejection isn’t fun for anyone. It’s always disappointing to hear, “you are not good enough,” after you’ve invested so much of yourself in pursuing a goal, endeavor, or project. These may not be the exact words being spoken, but they’re the words you hear. Believe me, I speak from experience! However, there are several techniques that make dealing with rejection easier. My pattern follows, to some degree, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stage Model of Grief, which links rejection to the death of an aspiration. Here are the stages that you might encounter when facing rejection, and most importantly how to move forward:

1. Denial: Perhaps I did not hear this right or maybe I misread the email. I look again because I was so sure I was “in the right” and everything was going to work out.

2. Anger: They did reject me! Whoa. That was harsh and there wasn’t even a satisfactory explanation for why or how I could improve the situation.

3. Bargaining: Maybe it is not straight out rejection, maybe it is just not a good fit. I should really be happy to know this now and not after it is too late.

4. Depression: Is there any place for me? Is this the result of all my hard work and effort?

5. Acceptance: Okay, you’re allotted 20-minutes for self-pity. Then, it’s time to move on.

When I get to the acceptance stage, I am recharged and motivated. I’m ready to explore other opportunities and set new goals and targets — first reflect, then react. That being said, it’s still easy to get stuck in one of the above stages; practice is the only way to move through the stages more fluidly. Until the practice becomes habitual, I recommend setting a timeline for how long you will allow each phase to continue before moving onto the next. After all, rejection is inevitable — learning how to deal is the only way to come out feeling stronger than you did before.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How should every successful woman deal with rejection?

Keep making mistakes at work? Here’s how to recover by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

How to successfully deal with rejection at work by Beth Monaghan, principal and co-founder of InkHouse.

How to shake off rejection like Taylor Swift by Beth Comstock, senior vice president and CMO of General Electric.

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